Long term experiences with the Sturmey Archer S3X

Anyone used one of these regularly, for a long period of time?

It’s not hard to find reports from people who grabbed one for a weekend and their initial impressions all tend to be similar, but as we all know, 12 months down the track, impressions sometimes (often?) change.

My personal background is this.
I live in Adelaide and most of my riding is commuting with the occaisional weekend jaunt. Living in the southern suburbs, every ride requires some hill climbing - in my case, riding up the Expressway Hill, a beastie that isn’t friendly to geared bikes, let alone single speed. I’ve been riding fixed exclusively for over 12 months now (been riding fixed for about 5 years). When I went fixed exclusively, that hill was well out of my limit but I reasonned that with time and effort, my legs would get stronger, my endurance would improve and it’d eventually become rideable.

It hasn’t happened … well, my legs are massive compared to what they used to be and the looks of fear and admiration I’ve had from other cyclists are balm to an ageing cyclists heart BUT, the best I can manage with regular riding, is being forced off the bike for about 200m at the steepest part of the Expressway Hill. If I let my fitness lapse, as has happened with the recent wet weather, it’s worse. I’m in my mid 50’s with a few medical issues so it’s possible I’m not going to do a lot better. I could just fit a very low gear on the offside of the hub for climbing, but the stuffing around with flipping a wheel doesn’t seem worth it for such a short need (even the full climb is only 3km long out of a 16km commute).

Basically, my riding needs are juuuuusssst outside my capabilities.

For what it’s worth, I’m riding 70 gear inches and apart from the steepest part of that damned hill, it’s perfect. I don’t mind belting down hills and reguarly top 55km/hr (haven’t hit 60 yet but I’m close) - holding those cadences for a km is a real blast and well worth the low gearing.

But, getting off and walking when going up is a pain in the arse, Soooo … the old bugga’s thoughts have turned to the S3X. I’m also suspecting that the lack of climbing ability is stopping me from considering other rides.

Instant solution, fit an S3X.

My main bike is a custom Hillbrick that I plan to ride until I die of severe old age. She’s not set up for cables under the bottom bracket because at that time, I didn’t specify them. Not a problem for a long term conversion but I don’t want to muck things up for an experiment that may not work long term. She’s been designed and built as a ‘do everything’ bike (sports bike to workhorse) so adding the S3X fits the style.

But, how do these hubs work long term?

Have they proven to be reliable?
Does the initial enthusiasm for them fade?
Do long term users find themselves sitting in one gear and never changing?

Any thoughts or comments, particularly if they’re relevant to the above discussion, would be appreciated.


No experience with said Sturmey’s…but if you are as close to summiting the hill as you say, wouldn’t it be easier to gear down a touch…to, say, 65-68inches?

If I gear down, my cadence goes up. My riding, even the ride home, has a lot of downhill as well as up hill. It’s a suggestion that has merit but involves compromise in the areas of downhill and flatland riding that works nicely with the current gearing. Having said that, I should just try it shouldn’t I - I might be surprised (where’s that wheel spanner?)

Might be worth a shot. You could also install a freewheel with that lower gearing, to accomodate some of the steep downhills. This is assuming you aren’t ‘fixedtilldeth’

I can attest that the hill he is talking about is hell. Done it twice, once fixed on 79", once on my road bike. It’s horrible climbing, and spinning down it would be horrible. Also, the bike path is pretty undulating… Big up’s doing it fixed.

Sorry I can’t help more.

You’re right mate. I was thinking about your first post while hanging up the washing and realised I was overthinking it at bit.

I’ve got a 20 tooth on the offside of the hub, just never used it. I’m going to flip it now to give it a go. Yes, it’ll up my cadences a bit down hill but that’s why I fitted brakes, it just means I’ll be spinning like blazes like I do know but will fall off at a lower speed. If I find that the lower gearing doesn’t suit the rest of my riding and/or I still can’t get up that hill, I’ll go further.

As far as the freewheel goes - it’d work but I’m reluctant to buy into having to switch the wheel around all the time, that’s becomming too much like hard work, the sort of thing you’d do occasionally but if you have to do it every day, you’d soon get jack of it.

Lower gearing though?
Coming to a road near me.

Thanks mate.
79 inches? You weren’t the bloke with thighs bigger than his waistline I saw crest that hill one day were you?

Haha, no. I would be the guy doing it on a brakeless pursuit frame with an aerospoke…

I stopped to take a photo about 3/4 the way up and couldn’t get my momentum to continue…

Yeah, that’s my problem, I just run out of momentum and you find yourself standing on the pedal trying to force it down.

Just fired up Rabbit (the gear calculator) and while the 20 tooth I’ve got currently fitted would be a good climbing gear (63 gi), it’s too low for normal riding - at speeds I regularly use, I’d be spinning too hard. A 20 tooth freewheel might be the go (in which case, I might just go further)

Anyone know of a good quality freewheel you can remove? The Dicta in those sizes don’t have the lugs to remove them.

Anyone used quick releases on a fixed gear bike? I’ve got one on my single speed and quite frankly, trying to get a decent chain tension gives me the tom-tits.

White Industries. There’s nothing that even comes close.

AFAIK this is a bad idea, too much chance for the wheel to slip forward and contact the down tube, causing massive unwanted whipskidzz

Changing the crank length can help give you a bit more leverage up the hills.

I have never used a S3X but my unicycle has fixed geared hub (2 speed - 36GI and 55GI). I have done about 4000 km on it so far. There is a bit of play in it so it is not quite the same as a normal hub but otherwise I love it. I have not had any problems with it myself but a number of other users of the same hub have had problems with them breaking down. I change gears a fairly often - depends on the terrain of course.

QR was good enough for Fausto Coppi’s track bike.
Honestly, I don’t think using QRs is an issue so long as you use decent skewers and them properly. By decent, I mean ones with internal or enclosed cam skewers and nuts with steel inserts.

also make sure the spacing is right, you dont want to be ‘pushing’ the dropouts in because the spacing is not wide enough.

My two road fixed bikes have been with quick release, you need to use an older steel QR and crank it on harder than usual to control the power…

1stly, I have to give props. Reading about your regular ride, and passion for a fixed gear is inspiring. Good on you !!!

Sorry I don’t have any long term experience with the new S/Archer fixed hubs but I have heard some not good things from those that have used them.

Most old timers I know would suggest a Sturmey Archer ASC 3 speed fixed. Great hubs, light alloy shells, and not very heavy for their type. Not cheap but not silly expensive, tricky to find but PM me as I’m happy to help direct you if you’re keen. Low gear is about 25% lower than the top/normal gear wich would be perfect for you.

Other things to perhaps consider are a Torpedo Duomatic, interesting hubs too. Other options include flipping a wheel or using a 2 cog/chainring drive side option but I’m not sure if such would be a pain on a regular ride. I will back Blakey’s claim about the white indo freewheels … truly awesome, but loud. They also do 2 cog freewheels (ie 17/19 on the one body) and might come in handy if you run a 3/32" drivetrain. Not cheap but worth every penny.

I know where you are coming from and I moved from riding fixed on road to SS with a White Industries freewheel. Here in Perth I was using a 48t chainring with a 16t white freewheel due to how flat it is over here but changed it over to an 18t freewheel for Melbourne. For longer commutes you can’t go past the freewheel over fixed option in my opinion. It just gives you that ability to give your legs a bit of a rest up ready for attacking the next hill. While it doesn’t give you any gearing the break it gives you is superb. I will be living in Adelaide come November so looking at heading back to the 16t for the commute.

i’ve got a white ind ss freewheel, 22 tooth, lovely buzz that makes pedestrians look behind them when i come up behind them on bike paths. i run 48-22 because of an ankle injury which equals 58 inches apparently. that seems a ridiculously low gear, but works great for climbing, and doesn’t seem to slow me down descending much at all. i could mostly keep up with the fast descenders on the last wednesday night ride i went on, and when we got to the bottom of the hills, i was still fresh and ready to go up the next one, and they weren’t.
I wasn’t a single speed rider before this this bike, but am an enthusiastic supporter of them now.

My experience with the s3x has been meh. Reduction gears are a little grindy and draggy as you would expect from an IGH, but seems incongruous with fixed gear expectations of peace and quiet. Gear sometimes slips out, as if the shifter indexing is not strong enough to hold the gear in place at times.

Want to buy a barely used s3x 120mm OLD?

  • Joel

Thanks Joel. that’s a little disappointing.

Did you find that the extra gears gave you extra flexibility as far as rideable terrain goes or was this largely an illusion?